Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hope Does Not Disappoint

“Get used to disappointment.”  The Man in Black from The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is the only movie I can quote and this is one of my favorite lines, right after “As you wish.”  Disappointment is something that we all have dealt with at one time or another. Disappointment with God, our parents, our friends and ourselves can result in a shell that goes around our hearts. We think our shell will keep us from being hurt again but can also keep us from fully connecting with God and others. Psychologists classify disappointment as a form of shame along with shyness, discouragement, embarrassment, self-consciousness or inferiority.[1]  Vulnerability and shame are topics that resonate with many people,  Brene` Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability has over 24 million views!  Before listening her talk, I didn’t understand the impact shame can have on our lives.  Shame is a feeling that something is intrinsically wrong with me either because of who I am, choices I have made or because of things that have been done to me.  My mother-in-law, a wise older woman simply defines shame as “some people don’t think they are worthy.”
I have been thinking about shame and vulnerability because I have been finishing a chapter on Elizabeth for my upcoming Bible Study on women of the Bible.  Elizabeth’s story is found in Luke 1, she is known as the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus and as the mother of John the Baptist but most of her life was filled with the disappointment and shame of infertility. When she found out that she was pregnant, she exclaimed, “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”[2]  The word “disgrace” in this verse means “shame.”  Though she was commended for being righteous, she had shame because she not been blessed with children.  A holy life was supposed to result in God’s favor with fruitfulness and many children but Elizabeth and Zachariah had no children. Even in modern times, couples who struggle with infertility ask the question, “What is wrong with me that I can’t have kids.” Testing hormone levels, sperm counts and ovulation cycles helps answer this question from a physiological perspective but doesn’t get to the heart of shame and disappointment that can surround infertility.  Every month brings disappointment and grief.
Zachariah’s and Elizabeth’s public shame of infertility was amplified by being descendants of Aaron and members of the priestly order. They were called to a higher standard of righteousness. In his work, Zachariah had also lived with the shame of not being blessed in his work.  He was an old man who hadn’t been chosen to offer incense in the Temple. Since his early 20’s, twice a year he had gone to serve in the Temple and twice a day during his week of service, lots were drawn to see who would offer the incense.  It was a once in a life time opportunity. [3] Over 700 times, he faced disappointment and questions about his worthiness as he saw younger and younger men get chosen. The clock was ticking, he knew at age 50, he would no longer be able to serve in the Temple.[4]  Time was running out.
The amazing thing to me is that Zachariah didn’t lose heart and he held on to the hope that each time he would be chosen.  Just like a single woman who risks heartbreak and shame as she continues to try to catch a bride’s bouquet long after her friends have gotten married, Zechariah kept himself holy and ready to serve in case his lot was drawn. The book of Leviticus outlines all the requirements for a priest to serve- if he had “forgotten” to do even one thing, he could have avoided the potential disappointment of not being chosen. Instead, he didn’t allow his heart to grow hard and he didn’t give up hope that God could use him and answer his prayers.  As a result, he was ready and able to serve in the Temple when “he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”[5]  His willingness to be vulnerable and put himself out there instead of checking out or calling in sick, enabled him to experience God’s presence in his life in a way that few people in the nation of Israel were even able to comprehend. Elizabeth and Zachariah were able to expand their view of God and His involvement in their lives in a miraculous way just because he was willing to be disappointed, willing to keep trying and willing to follow what God had called him to do. Even after 25 years, he made himself vulnerable and didn’t lose hope that God could use him. 
Romans 5:3-5 shows the importance of hope.  You may have read this passage before, this time pay attention to how these different translations use the words shame and disappointment.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (NIV)
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (NLT ) Our hope has to be built on God’s love for us even in great suffering, after we are deeply disappointed, when promises we thought we heard were not fulfilled, if children aren’t healed, and dreams don’t come true. 
Hope is hard. My natural response to disappointment and shame is to pull away.  When I have done something embarrassing, the last thing I want to do is be around the people who saw me in my embarrassing moment.   When people have disappointed me and let me down, I withdraw, I don’t want to ask them for things or depend on them.   My walls come up and I decide I am better off without them.  I feel vulnerable and hurt  when God doesn’t answer my prayers and seems to let tragedies occur, when he didn’t intervene to heal a friend’s daughter, and when growing up, we struggled financially though my parents did all they could. I easily have my own version of the Job and friends pity party.  I have asked, “If God is all knowing, all powerful and has unlimited resources, why hasn’t he answered my prayers?”  Then I start to blame. I wonder if it is something that I did or a family member failed to do.  Once I rule out those possibilities, I get mad.  It is unfair.   
Elizabeth and Zachariah may have wondered if there was some sin in their spouse’s life that kept them from God’s blessing.  I am sure they examined their own hearts to see if there was any way in them that was impure. At times they must have gotten mad at God, angry when they saw irresponsible people become parents, when fools were blessed in their careers and when others who had no desire for righteousness seemed to have the life they wanted.  It is hard to keep going, to keep putting yourself out there and to keep trusting God after 25 years of disappointment.  But they did, and God was faithful, answered their prayer, though not in their timing or even way they expected.  His plan for their blessing was greater than they could have imagined. 
Brene` Brown points out that the antidote to shame and disappointment is vulnerability.  We have to let ourselves be vulnerable, we need to stay in the game and pursue healthy relationships and connection even if we are going to get hurt. This even more important in our relationship with God. Rather than pulling away from God, we have to draw closer.  We need to depend on Him more, we need to trust him more and we need to love him more.  Unlike people who are flawed and selfish, He is always loving and kind.  Only when we draw closer to God will we experience, the promise found at the end of the Roman’s 5 passage, that “we know how dearly God loves us.”  If we place our hope on God’s love, his sovereignty and his perfect understanding we will have abundant life regardless of our circumstances. 
Is there a place where you have been disappointed, ashamed, or discouraged so you have pulled back and stopped trying, stopped hoping and stopped believing?  Don’t lose heart.  Be brave and vulnerable, Put your hope in God – this hope does not disappoint or put us to shame. 





[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-zesty-self/200905/what-we-get-wrong-about-shame
[2] Luke 1:23-25
[3] http://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Tamid.5.1
[4] Numbers 8:24-26
[5] Luke 1:8-9

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